Help needed - Lake Baikal

Dear Colleagues,

My research colleague, Professor Oleg Timoshkin  from the Limnological Institute in Irkutsk, Russia (he provided your e-mails), recently contacted you asking for your help in opposing a Russian government proposal that would greatly weaken restrictions on pollutant loading to Lake Baikal. 

According to the proposal, allowable concentrations of chemicals discharged into L. Baikal - including nitrates, phosphates, chloride, and synthetic surface-active substances from detergents and washing powders – will be allowed to increase as much as 15 fold.  This is proposed at a time when the lake is already suffering from severe anthropogenic stress.  What is needed is advanced sewage treatment facilities and enforcement of evidence-based discharge limits; not a weakening of discharge loading permits.

Here is a brief summary of the current eutrophication crisis.  Beginning ca. 2011, localized coastal areas began experiencing large wash-ups of benthic algae (mostly Spirogyra) that accumulated onshore (see picture below; Timoshkin et al. 2016).  The problem has worsened since then.  At one site, Spirogyra now proliferates year-round to depths of 40 meters (see picture below; Volkova et al. 2018).  The cause is excess nutrient inputs from either failed sewage treatment plants or the lack of sewage treatment.  For example, most villages and hotels, even new hotels, do not have sewage treatment.  Consequently, at some sites nutrient concentrations are 20-60x higher than normal background levels (Khodzher et al. 2017).  Compounding this situation is an exponential increase in the number of tourists, going from 500,00 to 1.5 million people annually over the last 10 years.  Tourism will only continue to increase because China is now promoting travel abroad for its citizens.

It is clear that the sanitation infrastructure of the L. Baikal region cannot handle the growing burdens of development and tourism.  Nearshore eutrophication now occurs even at small, isolated settlements, well away from large settlements and harbors. Research shows that nutrients from human wastes are entering the nearshore zone at these sites via groundwater (Timoshkin et al. 2018).  Unlined cesspools service nearly every home, cottage, and other type of human dwelling along the lakeshore, and porous soils facilitate the rapid flow of nutrient-laden groundwater into the nearshore zone.

It would be very helpful if you could write a letter to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation emphasizing the necessity of nutrient abatement to prevent or mitigate eutrophication of the world’s greatest lake.

The need is urgent. Your letter needs to be received before April 4th, 2019.

Your letter can be emailed to Dr AP Fedotov (Director of Limnological Institute SD RAS, Irkutsk – ); Dr Timoshkin (,

And to the following UNESCO staff members, who is responsible for Lake Baikal as a World heritage object (they will prepare the official letter to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs):

Rossler, Mechtild <>
Debonnet, Guy -

Also, please, fax your letters on the following numbers, belonging to the Ministry of Nat Resources and Ecology of Russia; to the Minister of Ecology, Mr. Kobylkin Dmitry Nikolaevich.




and to the following whose staff will translate it and enter it onto a website (in Russian) where comments on the government proposal are being received until April 4th, 2019.

Thank you for your time, and especially for your voice at this critical juncture.


If possible, please, distribute this letter to your colleagues broadly…


Literature Cited:

Khodzher T.V., Domysheva V.M., Sorokovikova L.M. et al. 2017. Current chemical composition of Lake Baikal water. Inland Waters 7: 250–258. DOI: 10.1080/20442041.2017.1329982


Timoshkin, O.A., D.P. Samsonov, M. Yamamuro, M.V. Moore, O.I. Belykh, V.V. Malnik, M.V. Sakirko, A.A. Shirokaya, N.A. Bondarenko, V.M. Domysheva, G.A. Fedorova, A.I. Kochetkov, A.V. Kuzmin, A.G. Lukhnev, O.V. Medvezhonkova, A.V. Nepokrytykh, E.M. Pasynkova, A.E. Poberezhnaya, N.V. Potapskaya, N.A. Rozhokova, N.G. Sheveleva, I.V. Tikhonova, E.M. Timoshkina, I.V. Tomberg, E.A. Volkova, E.P. Zaitseva, Yu.M. Zvereva, A.B. Kupchinsky, N.A. Bukshuk. 2016. Rapid ecological change in the coastal zone of Lake Baikal (East Siberia):  Is the site of the world’s greatest freshwater biodiversity in danger? Journal of Great Lakes Research 42:487-497.  doi: 10.1016/j.jglr.2016.02.011


Timoshkin O.A., Moore M.V., Kulikova N.N. et al. 2018. Groundwater contamination by sewage causes benthic algal outbreaks in the littoral zone of Lake Baikal (East Siberia). Journal of Great Lakes Research 44: 230–244. DOI: 10.1016/j.jglr.2018.01.008


Volkova E.A., Bondarenko N.A., Timoshkin O.A. 2018. Morphotaxonomy, distribution and abundance of Spirogyra (Zygnematophyceae, Charophyta) in Lake Baikal, East Siberia. Phycologia 57: 298–308. DOI: 10.2216/17-69.1